Africa Memories: Witchcraft, Whiteman, Spreading the word of Jesus

In this post I share fun memories from my time in Ghana in 2005-06, where I was working for VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas).

— In Ghana like in some other parts of Africa people believe in witchcraft. There are camps for women accused to be witches. They are blamed for their kids’ illnesses, their husband’s business failures, for bad crop. And what’s more incomprehensible, some women admit to being witches. When I was in Ghana I learned that Africans are not the only ones who still have witchcraft. Whitemen have witchcraft too. Computers, a colleague informed me, were the whiteman’s witchcraft!

— After moving into my compound on the campus of the secondary school, the first Sunday morning I was woken up by loud live music, drums and singing and joy. I was confused as to why people would decide to party early in the morning, only to find out that the noise was coming from the ‘church’, a classroom used for worship. And that unlike at churches I was used to which were sombre, serious and quiet, at an African church people were ecstatic, boisterous, flamboyant!

Ghana - Cape Coast People

— In Ghana people are extremely polite and gentle. For instance, at the school where I was teaching computer skills part-time, when I asked a student a question, if they didn’t know the answer, they would say, ‘Please, I can’t best tell.’

— To describe the condition of a terrible road, they would say, ‘It’s not the best!’

— During the orientation at the VSO office in the capital Accra, we were told by our Ghanaian Programme Manager that on the street we might be called obroni, whiteman, by the local people. ‘This is not offensive, it’s like calling a blackman nigger,’ he told us. ‘Well,’ we said, ‘nigger is offensive!’

— On my first journey from Accra to the North I was in the same vehicle as the presiding member of the District Assembly. She was a jovial woman with a large build, wearing a colourful African headwrap. ‘Where are you from?’ she asked. ‘From Turkey, half-Turkish, half-English,’ I replied. ‘No problem,’ she said, ‘I will marry you!’

— Once when I explained that in the future I might adopt a kid rather than have my own, I was told, ‘Adopting kids is an obroni thing. You should produce children.’

— In Nalerigu, the town I was living near, there was a hospital run by American Baptist missionaries. From time to time I would see them in town. In such a rural area when you see another foreign person, you feel compelled to talk and find out their story. If you were in Accra, you would probably just walk past without even acknowledging them. These missionaries were usually cryptic, they would never call themselves missionaries, but would rather say things like, ‘I work with the communities’ or ‘I’m spreading the word of Jesus’.

— I once ran into a missionary at a restaurant in the regional capital Tamale. He was wearing a flowery shirt, was in his 50s. Speaking loudly, he revealed that when he was young he was in the army, and he used to get drunk, do drugs, go after women. He was never happy. But then he had discovered Christianity, and had found peace. Now he was in rural Ghana, spreading the word of Jesus.

— In Ghana I was living in the Mamprusi district in the Northern Region, not far from the Sahara Desert, and it could get hot during the dry season. The local language had one word which I really liked. In the morning when someone asked how you were, you could reply, ‘Tumasim,’ meaning ‘it’s cool’.

— Once, after a workshop for HIV/AIDS awareness raising at the district assembly, I was talking to a man who was from a remote village. He told me there were three levels. First it was God, then the whiteman, and then the blackman! And that he appreciated whitemen coming to work in Africa. It was the typical humbleness of a rural African man.

— When we go to Africa from more developed countries, we usually talk about how things are not working and how we can improve the situation. But we often forget that people have been living in Africa for thousands of years and that there are things we can learn from them too. One thing I’ve learned from my time in Ghana is ‘No Hurry in Life’. I have seen this motto on the back of a tro-tro (minibus), as the name of a hairdressers salon, painted on walls. I often remind myself of this. No Hurry in Life. Just relax, talk to people, enjoy and things will work out. As they usually do in Africa!

Tro-tro in the Northern Region of Ghana


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